#NetNarr: Social Lifestyle or Ad-fueled Construct

via http://van-life.net/

I don’t know what to make of the piece by Rachel Monroe in The New Yorker about #VanLife, which focuses on people who have taken to living in their vans (mostly VW vans) for all sorts of reasons — economic, lifestyle, etc. These #VanLife folks then share their travels and world via social media, often with the hashtag of #VanLife, and mostly on Instagram.

That’s fine.

Our world is one built on sharing and community practice (yes, there is a #VanLife network of people) but where I started to shake my head and wonder is when the article shifted to the money being made by those who are living in their vans. Many now enter into financial deals with companies and organizations, and we watch in the article as the young couple in Monroe’s focus sets up photographic shots with product placement and endorsements in mind.

The collapsing distance between brand and life has led to social-media influencing, in which advertisers pay for endorsements from people with strong online followings. Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of “celebrity” to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs. Advertisers work with people like Smith and King precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers.  — Rachel Monroe, from #VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement, via the New Yorker.

For so many reasons, that just sits the wrong way with me.

Maybe I am thinking of authenticity in the world (so, they want to live in van to escape the pressures of a stable life but then sell themselves off the company with the biggest wallet?) and the authenticity of the stories that we are creating with social media (some would no doubt argue everything we do is a social construct made larger and magnified by social media). I don’t wander around social media sites with my head in the sand but I also don’t buy into the notion that everything we do is for sale, either.

Imagine if we started to put placement ads in CLMOOC or DS106 or Networked Narratives (although spoofing that in those spaces might be sort of interesting and often is) and made money off the creative energies of the people in those networks?

Ack. I’d leave those spaces in a heartbeat. Here, these folks court and encourage advertising, fit their social selves into the schemes of advertising, and seem to live through the lens of advertising.

Not my cup of tea (I won’t tell you what brand I drink, either).

It’s fine. Go live in your van.  Take pics. Share them out. But don’t sell me some “experience” if it is sponsored by Coco-Cola or Pepsi (god forbid) or whatever. Keep that part of your journey to yourself.

Peace (homebound),

#NetNarr: Maps as Stories/Stories as Maps


Thanks to my friend, Daniel, for sharing this intriguing map-building/story-telling site with us on Twitter called Story Maps a few weeks ago. As we continue to dive into  Networked Narratives (NetNarr), I wonder if this kind of mapping site might be a useful resource for building maps and worlds, with stories.

I like the site seems to be open-source, with plenty of links for tutorials on how to build and share story maps.  The map that Daniel shared — Bruised Borders — looks at places where disputes over boundaries of countries have erupted into conflict. (The embedded materials aren’t great here … I suggest following links to the site itself for full experience. If your browser won’t load the embed, you might need to allow for unsafe scripts.)


Or this one, about economic inequities in American cities.

I am not sure how this Story Maps site might be useful for consideration of Networked Narratives — which has shifted into interactions around fictional worlds.

But the underlying idea is to nurture a “civic imagination” so that we can make the world a better place (or that’s how I am understanding it right now) and maybe these kinds of maps as stories might allow us another entry into that concept..

Peace (on the map and beyond),

Five Voices in Search of a Poem: This is the Truth

This is the Truth in Soundtrap

Inspired by my friend, Sheri, and her Poem for Three Voices about a young writer that she, and I and Melvina recorded and shared last week, I wondered if I could expand that notion a bit and write a Poem for Five Voices, and get four other people from different geographic locations to use Soundtrap to record.

I did, and we did, and it sounds like this:

My aim in writing the poem was to offer up a critique of the media/news landscape, and try to discern some central point about the elusive nature of Truth. I am a former journalist, a writer of news, and an avid reader of news now. I am both disheartened by the declining State of Media, and heartened (in a very strange way) that Trump’s imperial presidency and Bannon-led attacks on Media have actually galvanized and strengthened the major news operations, and attracted readers.

The use of multiple voices in the poem is designed to show all of us, together, sorting out what is real and what is not, and what is spin and what is not, and calling out media and political leaders to account for the information flow. Yes, we all have a responsibility. That doesn’t mean we can’t do this together, and find a way to make the world a better place for all. THAT is the truth, from my perspective.

You can view my poem here and feel free to remix it, use it or ignore it. This screenshot is the first of two pages.

This is the Truth poem

Process Notes: We used the online site, Soundtrap, as a way to coordinate our voices. It would have been a whole long easier if we had been in the same room, same space, with poem in front of us. That wasn’t physically possible.

So, what you hear is some vocal dissonance, as our phrasing weaves in and out of each other. Recording a poem like this is complicated, we quickly found, and I edited audio tracks to fit as best as I could. We began with Melvina doing a master track, which we then worked off individually, and then I edited to make it sound like a whole.

Notice the different sounds of voices. Quality of microphones becomes a potentially technical hurdle, and I used compression and other effects to try to align them as best as I could. In the end, maybe that flattening didn’t matter. Maybe, in fact, the different sound qualities are part of the composition — showing different views through sound. I might be stretching here.

I want to warmly thank Sheri, Scott, Melvina and Terry for patiently following me on this collaborative adventure. We organized ourselves on Twitter, and then had our voices meet in Soundtrap. It was a grand adventure.

Peace (in poetry),

Hashtags as Roots of Resilience

A hashtag home #CCourses

(Note: I wrote this piece quite some time ago, thinking it would be submitted to a new publishing site. That got stalled. This piece sort of floated in my Draft bin. Time to release it. — Kevin)

A funny thing happened on my way to the Rhizome sometimes last year … the hashtag got switched. Now, normally, this would not be a big issue. But I have come to realize more and more how much I rely on the columns of my Tweetdeck app (sorted by hashtags) as a place to keep connected to various projects. So, when someone switches a conversation from one hashtag (say, #rhizo16) to another (say, #resilience16), I suddenly feel disorientated. Lost.

And I depend on the kindness of strangers. A few rhizo folks had made some initial tweets with both hashtags (which is quite generous because together, they take up a good portion of the 140 characters to begin with, you know?). In the end, in an ironic twist, neither took hold, and there was no Rhizo16. To be fair, it had nothing to do with hashtags, as far as I can tell.

It’s happening again right now for me, with National Poetry Writing Month. Do I use the new hashtag #GloPoWriMo (for GLOBAL Poetry Writing Month? Or do I use the old one #NaPoWriMo?). I have been using the GloPoWriMo because I like the concept of the world as writers of poetry. But I often think, what’s going on with NaNoWriMo and who decided, let’s shift to something new?

Still, the experience had me thinking of the concept of common hashtags in terms of the theme of resilience anyway because I know this is how I stay connected to an online course, or mooc, or activity, or movement, or whatever it was over time. I’ve just added a second column for Networked Narratives, as an example, as that class moves into another project phase with a new hashtag.

All this shuffling and worrying about lost contact also reminds me of the importance of naming a hashtag at the start. Add a year designation and suddenly, the clock is ticking on its timelessness. Make the hashtag murky with lettering and it becomes a meaningless jumble of the alphabet. Make it too short or too common, and other problems crop up.

I’ve noticed, for example, the #NWP hashtag (for National Writing Project) sometimes gets accidentally intruded upon by some music sharing tag. So suddenly, there will be a wave of posts that veer away from teaching and writing and into something completely different. It’s disorientating, in an intriguing way. Maybe we are the intruders on their hashtag, not the other way around, right?

Or maybe the hashtag becomes an impromptu shared space.

Then, there are the hashtags-within-hashtags, which can take on a life of their own. For example, within the #CLMOOC hashtag, there is a #SilentSunday hashtag. #CLMOOC represents the echoes of the Making Learning Connected MOOC while #SilentSunday is an activity of sharing an image with not context each Sunday (although, it too, is shared with other people doing other kinds of Silent Sunday-ing). It began as an activity in the CLMOOC but now has its own orbit, living on long after the CLMOOC summer ended.


flickr photo shared by Théo La Photo under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

In Tweetdeck, I often struggle with the question: Do I delete this column with a particular hashtag? If I do, and activity suddenly kicks in, will I miss it all? Yes, probably. Maybe I’ll hear some activity around the edges of the hashtag. But once I delete it from my view, I am not likely to return it there. (So, if people from last year are still using #rhizo15, I have no idea what they are talking about.) A good example for me is the #ccourses (connected courses), which I sort of regret removing and may add back in. Although activity can be sparse at times, it often provides interesting resources. That’s what I call “Hashtag Regret.”

Many of my hashtags have had a long, fruitful life in my Tweetdeck. I toggle around areas of interest. Reading across the top row, I see (other than my own timeline):

Given the whole history of the hashtag, and how it was never a planned structural element of Twitter, it is such an intriguing design element that plants roots and seeds, and connects people together in interesting ways. (Rhizomatic thinking, there)

Of course, some people use fake/invented/momentary hashtags to make a joke or a point about something or to note sarcasm or take a political stance. #ImwithHer #techquity  The Trump Presidency has given rise to this witty art form, using hashtags as social commentary and political action. Trump, of course, invents his own.

flickr photo shared by princessavampyra under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

And I had never thought too deeply until now about how hashtags are at the very core of our social interactions on Twitter, and now on other social networking platforms, too. Like “tags” in photos or blog posts, hashtags are connectors that make the Internet a social gathering space.

Without hashtags, we might as well be yelling into deep space. With hashtags, we have the possibility to connect.

#Peace (it’s tagged),

Slice of Life: The Social Media Illusion

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My pre-teen son confided in me that he had gone back into his Musically app the other day, for the first time in a few weeks, only to find out to his surprise that he was Number One on their charts of users. Musically allows you to create short lip-sync videos with all sorts of filters. It’s fun, but I personally find it a bit too much. People heart you. It’s one of those sites.

“It sort of freaked me out,” he admitted, on seeing his username at the top of the chart. “I hadn’t even made anything (new video) in a long time. I don’t know how it happened. Did something go viral?”

He said he even double checked it was his (since he uses a fake name to protect his identity … good boy) and that led us into a whole discussion about the role of followers and why social media is built on this aspect of users needing more and more confirmation or hearts or likes or whatever from an unknown audience. And how shallow that entire system can be, even if it feels good at the time.

This led us to talk about places he knows online where you can “earn” new followers, too. I’m still not clear on this — do you buy followers somehow? What are you giving up? Your data? Your information? Your eyeballs for intrusive ads? Something, right?

“Maybe I should delete the app,” he wondered out loud.

We were in the car during all this, so I told him I would look at the app later. When I did, I realized that he had been duped by an April Fool’s joke by Musically, in which every user who checked the charts found themselves Number One.

Pretty clever, and also, pretty interesting for a social media app built on users and followers to play on the desire of its own users for more and more followers as a joke on those same users. There’s something strangely meta in that circle of thought.

My son was amused when I told him about Musically’s April Fools joke. He seemed a bit relieved, as if there had been a huge weight to bear when you suddenly realize you have become the top dog in a social media chart.

He was also a bit wistful that his day at the top of the charts was all just an illusion. But really, given the landscape of social media and teens, and what constitutes popularity in such fleeting ways, isn’t most of what we do in social media merely illusion, anyway?

Peace (thinking),

PS — “Dad, a whole bunch of kids at school got pranked by the same joke, and thought they were number one. We all did. That’s funny.” — the boy.

Tinkering with Voices/Playing with Poems

Soundtrap Poetry Collab

The other day, my friend, Sheri, posted a blog piece that included a Poem for Three Voices about the struggle to start a piece of writing, from the viewpoint of a student writer.

I immediately thought: that poem should be recorded and heard, with three voices. Over the following days, Sheri recruited Melvina, and the three of us used Soundtrap, an online recording platform, to make a version of Sheri’s poem.

It was sort of a recording experiment, and I am now myself working on writing a Poem for Five Voices, with Sheri, Melvina and hopefully two others. Now that I know for certain that Soundtrap works well for this poetry collaboration (as I thought it might), it opens up some doors.

The difficulty with performing these multiple voice poems is the logistics, of leaving space in the tracks for other voices to fill. But Soundtrap at least solves one main and significant issue: we don’t have to be in the same room at the same time, and we don’t need to be sending audio files back and forth.

I’ve done these Poems for Multiple Voices in the classroom with students (last year, we did math poems), using Garageband and other recording platforms, and they really enjoyed the ways in which the voices come and go, and how words weave in and out of each other. It’s challenging to write and construct these poems, and they are challenging to read.

More to come in the days ahead …

Peace (like poems),

PS — I once wrote this poem for my math colleague and I to read to the whole school over morning announcements. I still like it for the way it merges math and writing. We need to record it again, I think (our old version was at an old site that is now defunct).

TheWriter and the Mathematician- A Poem for 2 Voices by KevinHodgson on Scribd

#NetNarr: Using StepWorks to Make a StoryPoem

NetNarr StepWorks

This is all rather early in my exploration of an interesting storytelling site called Stepworks (which Alan Levine tweeted out about and which I then followed and became intrigued). I spent some time diving into it yesterday (and got some help from the kind developer of the site via email), and during the day, I made a little something for the Networked Narratives course.

Go ahead .. read my story/poem about Networked Narratives.

Erik Loyer, the site developer, did put together a video tutorial that is worth watching and using as a learning tool. He walks the viewer through each step. I watched it carefully. It was very helpful.

But I figured I would learn and remember better if I made a tutorial of my own for others in NetNarr to follow, if they wanted. It might help anyone who wanted to make their own (and maybe, collaborate later on together? Anyone?). Diving into something new for storytelling … that’s NetNarr, right?

My own next step is to remix some of Erik’s scripts for sounds and see if I can’t add the audio element to my story/poem. Erik says a video is coming down the road about how to do that, but he suggested I look at some of existing files and see what I could do on my own. He’s got that NetNarr spirit!

Here, then, are the steps, which I followed after watching Erik (and emailing for some help):









Be sure to share your story with us! Use the #NetNarr hashtag on Twitter.

Peace (in steps of the story),

#NetNarr Invite: Random Emoji Writing Prompt

I was reading through the suggested activities for last week’s Networked Narratives course, and came across Alan Levine’s suggestion for doing a “Four Icon Story” that uses icons to tell a story with no words. I’ve done those before on Twitter via DS106. The visual aspect of writing (and trying to guess another’s four icon story) is interesting.

It reminded me of another post I had bookmarked, in which Eric Curts set up and shared out a Google Sheets Prompt Generator with emojis. It’s pretty nifty. I grabbed a copy, which Eric makes readily available, and began playing around with it.

One note: While Eric suggests that “control R” randomizes the emojis in the spreadsheet, my Mac wanted to do “command R” to get the randomizer working. So, you may need to tinker a bit.

I didn’t add any new emojis to Eric’s database, but it is certainly possible to do. Instead, I hit the “randomizer” button (Command R) and got my list of five emoji inspiration. How lucky is it that a saxophone was in the mix? Pretty cool!
Emoji Writing Prompt

And then, I wrote a story.

It was one of those blustery nights, the kind of night where every living thing in the jungle or the plains fell silent and tried to sleep, hoping for the sun in the morning. The Lion was hungry but not motivated to hunt. He knew there would be little out here, with the Wind blowing from the East. Hunting would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. Huddled in the leeward side of his rock, Lion pulled out his cell phone, and checked for service. Even with the Google Wireless Balloons in the air and Facebook towers dotting the plains, Internet service was spotty in these far reaches of the world. Lion imagined the Winds buffeting the Balloons, knocking over towers. Sure enough, there was no cell phone service on this night. Lion sighed. Hungry and disconnected from the world. He closed his eyes and sought out sleep. As he drifted off into dreams, he caught the faint sounds of music, as if someone were riffing off the melody of the Wind. The jazz floated above the plains, flatted fifths and augmented sevenths. Lion opened his eyes. Perhaps he might go hunting tonight, after all. The musician played on, unaware of the power of his song.

Wanna give it a try? You can either go to Eric’s post and grab your own database or you can view mine.

Peace (looks like),

What a Folded Story Sounds Like

Folded Story as Word Cloud

I was happy this week when a handful of folks in the Networked Narratives course took up my invitation to join me in writing a Folded Story. The idea is that you only see the fold above you as you write and then you pass it off to someone else (sort of like an Exquisite Corpse story).

The result, after 25 folds and about 10 different writers, is very strange, and I would argue it is an example of a networked narrative — a collaborative story written and told across time and space, with technology as the platform for telling the story. (The word cloud above is built with the words from the folded story).

Take a listen to the story. I narrated the whole thing, reading from start to finish all of our folds. I added a little music beneath it, just to keep the five minutes of story moving along. It was strange to read in one sitting, from start to finish.


You can also read the story here (or view it as a PDF):

So there you are, holding the thread and wondering whether to pull or not. The thread leads to something beyond your eyes. You stare at the thread. And then you pull. You feel it tug back three times and then a warm hum springs from the thread as it begins to sing. The words are faint at first, like the far away tinkling of cheap wind chimes, but the it becomes clear, ” This is not the beginning of the story. This is merely an obscure edge of the tale.” The wind chimes continue to shimmer. Out of the music, something appears. Paper, with burned edges and forgotten words. You read it aloud and the language is runic and foreign, full of sigils and elementals, EarthAirFireWater. The sounds at first are glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Meaning transmutes from lead to gold and a measure of understanding rises, “So say we thus: Within these words, within this fire, within this alchemic mixture, we discover the truth of the hermetic motto “As above, so below.” Turtles all the way down never swimming in the same time stream twice. Nothing to be had but to start pulling on the thread and following it into the labyrinth. It felt like you were tugging against something. So you pulled harder, knowing that the tail of the tale was still in play, even if it remained invisible beyond the sight line. One final tug of the thread and the world around you unravels. You watch as plants are replaced with twine, earth with yarn, and people with string; yet they all seem to maintain their form. The people notice you are not from their stringy world. They walk over to you and Touch your slender form. Your straight back and gentle hook is perfect for this stringy world which often becomes a net, a filter, a sort of flexible valve of ideas. You grip whatever you can hold on, searching for substance. There. You sense how this one story might spring forth others. You twist it counter-clockwise, surprised by I was surprised by a single CLICK! What?? This is a triple barrel lock, how could I not crack the code? All those lessons in safe cracking, gone to waste. All those hours studying codes, deciphering, hacking, tracking. But wait, I heard something… It was a tiny metal on metal sound–I recognized it right away–deep in the tumblers a nano cricket from the lab was worrying apart the intricate mechanism. Someone had planted the nano bug Its tiny clanging told me it was dangerously close to interfering with the network’s mainframe. One nick could shut down all central processing. Reserve power won’t be enough to sustain our work here. The bug has to be found and extracted. Fast. The bug started to burrow, deeper and deeper. It’s main food was bits and bytes, tasty morsels not found on the surface. It devoured the 1’s and 0’s trying to pass its fat body. Lost words for the child’s bedtime story. It feasted on and on until it disgorged what seemed to be a book, a bound contraption of words and magic. Its binding was wire mesh, nearly collapsible. You yank at the dangling thread. The whole thing expands into place. You stare and wonder at the title: An Alchemist’s Manifesto. Your mind races. Within seconds you are compelled to consume the words revealed to you. Page by page is devoured by your soul until you are, at last, filled with the knowledge of a thousand years. When the last word from the last page is written, then you will know. Until then, you must find new ways to intuit your inner life, making it connect with the randomness and fragmentary experience of this so called world. For what is the network effect, but a schizophrenia born of distraction. You know truth of course, you just need to pull the telescope from your pocket, reverse-engineer it into a microscope, and then find the focus. You know that. Find focus. You fiddle with the ****, turn the crank and another world arrives. Something is moving on the surface. Something quite extraordinary. Not one thing, but a multitude of beings, moving in coordinated fashion. They seem to be communicating with you, and somehow you are understanding their message of hums and whirs. Minute sounds that somehow converge into meaning. These creatures have something to tell me. Something important. Their meaning is fuzzy though. I get glimpses of an idea. Nothing totally clear. But, I think they’re trying to say truth exists though it can be hard to see. Though it may just be a tiny bit or a little it. Thing is you can view from so many different perspectives. Up top or down below. From the right or left with the light casting shadows just so. You never know but you have to go in, you have to answer their questions. You’re going to get up there on the witness stand and tell the truth as you know it. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth about what they did on the 4th of July. And if you don’t know the “they,” then you don’t know the truth. But you know there is time. There’s always time for the story to unfold or take a new turn, even a new beginning — like when you come into an improv performance and have to re-imagine what you missed. Every of us has our own beginning, and then we cross paths. Or not.

Peace (folded into place),

#NetNarr: Making a PeaceLove& Twitter Bot


Yesterday, I wrote about diving into the world of Twitter Bots for Networked Narratives, and my interest in creating my own Twitter Bot, if only to understand the process of how it is done.

Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.

Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.

The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).

First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).

Peace Love Bot Code

Second, I had to figure out the coding of Tracery. I looked at Kate’s example, and how it worked, and followed a link to her tutorial (which was more complicated to me, a non-coder, than I wanted it to be). I tried to tinker with the program and kept failing. Hmmm. I Google searched Tracery and found an interactive site called Bother that allowed me to replace its code with my own, and generate a code that Tracery would use. Phew. I still spent a lot of time tinkering but it worked. You can look at and remix my code, too, if it helps.

Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.

Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.

And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.

Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),